FAYETTEVILLE — Jon Cooper will coach the tight ends for Arkansas and is pleased to be in Fayetteville with Sam Pittman.
Cooper joined the Arkansas staff after previously coaching at the University of Central Florida. Cooper talked about the facilities and things that Arkansas has to offer. Like most recruits that see Arkansas for the first time, Cooper is very impressed.
“My perception of Arkansas was a blue-blood program,” Cooper said. “I expected them to have the best of everything. And you still look up and see the stadium and say, ‘Wow.’ You go into that north end zone and it’s nicer than you can really ever imagine. So yes, but the expectations here are high in everything whether its the Jones Building or the stadium, all that.
“So there’s nothing I was expecting to be like, ‘Well maybe this won’t be nice.’ But it did exceed expectations because some of these buildings, which are just buildings, but they are fantastic and they’re great resources for our student athletes.”
On Wednesday, Sam Pittman talked about he likes to have five tight ends on scholarship at a time. Arkansas currently has three. Cooper talked about the numbers and what his initial thoughts on his room as well as possibly adding a grad transfer.
“We have to make sure we sit down as a staff and know how many numbers we have left,” Cooper said. “You would love to be able to sign as many as you want, but you don’t get too. We have to make sure where our biggest needs are. I feel like our room might be a little bit under in numbers, but I think we’ve got some strong players.
“We’ve got some walk ons who are strong. We’re going to be OK. We’re gonna be better than OK. I shouldn’t say that. You are always looking for the best players to add to your team and we need to find the best players with the most value at the place with the most need.”
The scholarship tight ends returning are redshirt freshman Hudson Henry and senior Blake Kern. Arkansas also signed Flower Mound (Texas) Marcus’ Collin Sutherland on Wednesday as well as picked up a pledge from Bentonville West preferred walk-on Jonas Higson.
Cooper talked about what he looks for in a tight end when he goes out on the recruiting trail.
“It’s such a unique position especially in our offense,” Cooper said. “You don’t need to be 6-foot-5 necessarily. Again that might be the prototypical SEC and NFL tight end, but we’ve played with a bunch of different type of athletes at that position. You’ve got to be a willing blocker. You’ve got to be selfless. You’ve got to be able to put others before yourself. You’ve got to be able to split out wide and run routes like an inside receiver. Then be able to put your hand down and block like an offensive lineman at times.
“In our offense the tight end has to be really intelligent. Their football IQ has to be really like the quarterbacks. They’ve got to see the entire picture from fronts, coverages and everything of that nature. So you can’t really have a guy who runs really fast so let’s throw the ball down the field. That’s not really what our tight ends are gonna do. He can’t just be big and strong let’s go maul people. That’s not what our people do. They’ve got to be able to do it all.
“Again, it’s not like I want them to be between 6-3 and 6-6 or whatever. If they can do what we ask them to do. If they have some of the intangibles of the intelligence, of being coachable which is a big thing for me. Not necessarily doing the right technique before you get here, but understanding and trusting a coach is gonna help you play to the best of your ability in what they’re asking you to do. I think that’s a big part of it.”
Arkansas has had a couple of Mackey Award (nation’s top tight end) in fairly recent history. D.J. Williams won the award in 2010 and then Hunter Henry captured it in 2015. Is that something Cooper feels like he can use as a recruiting tool?
“You know it is, but I like to give those guys credit because they won it,” Cooper said. “The University of Arkansas helped them achieve that there’s no doubt. But they put in the work and did that.
“As much as it’s a great looking trophy and you can sell. It’s more informational just telling those kids anything you want to accomplish at the University of Arkansas you can do here. Those guys have been drafted and Hunter is gonna get a big contract this year and got a lot of awards. But they’ve got to go in and do the work themselves. So I don’t like to give credit to someone else’s award to a kid before they get here. As much as a lot of people use that in recruiting, I want these kids to be themselves and I want them to come win that award on their own.”
With recruiting and being on the road Cooper and the others haven’t had time to have as much interaction with the current players as they would obviously like, but he has gotten to know Hudson Henry pretty well.
“Yeah, with the few weeks we’ve been here,” Cooper said. “He’s a great kid and he’s hungry. He wants to be great. Obviously he has got great bloodlines and great family ties to Arkansas. Like I’ve talked about with Collin, he wanted to be here. It wasn’t about a matter of if he was a five-star, one-star, first-round pick or last pick in the draft he wanted to do it from Arkansas.
“That, to me, speaks volumes and something that excites me. I want to be at Arkansas. There’s no place in the country I’d rather be right now. I’m excited to be here and that’s the kind of people we want to go get. We want to make them want to be here by getting the environment we create every single day in the building and on the football field.”
(Editor’s Note: This is the first of a nine-part series to get to know the Arkansas assistant football coaches.)